Fire In The Kitchen: Gordon Ramsay by Cherie Saunders

 

Gordon Ramsay has made a name for himself as a straight-talking celebrity chef, who intrigues TV audiences with his foul-mouth rants in the kitchen. The Best You caught up with him to find out what sparks his fire. 

 

Ramsay has carved a name for himself as the Simon Cowell of reality TV cooking shows. Ramsay, who was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and largely grew up in Stratford upon avon, says his start in the culinary world was a happy accident. He was a promising football player and tried for Rangers until an injury ended his chances of a sporting career. He then entered catering college, in his late teens and since then has developed his personality in the kitchen rather than on the football field.

Having moved to London, he soon rose through the ranks via Marco Pierre White’s tutelage and had a successful spell in Paris before returning to UK. His culinary skills were developing at a pace but he hit a steep learning curve when it came to business.

“I’d just come back from Paris with all this knowledge, got introduced to some guys who had an Italian restaurant. They offered me 25 percent of it, I didn’t know what I was getting 25 percent of. It turned out to be 25 percent of debt. But what do you know at 26?” Ramsay made a success of the place but eventually left the enterprise and in 1998 launched his own restaurant, Restaurant gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. a sensation on the London scene, his solo project consolidated his reputation and helped him become the first Scotsman to gain three Michelin stars.

Excelling in modern european cuisine, Ramsay currently owns restaurants in USa, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Qatar and several in UK including Plane Food in Heathrow. His eatery empire has grown along with his TV career, notably with Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ramsay’s fiery nature in the heat of the kitchen and tell-it-like-it-is attitude make for irresistible viewing, as delicious as his dishes. “It’s not an act,” insists Ramsay. “We’ve fi lmed Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen and it’s under the extraordinary pressure because I’m so pissed – the fact that they’re spending hours of wasting customers’ time, their own time and charging a fortune for dishes and they’re not even putting their love and soul into it. So I expose them in a big way.” Married to school teacher Tana Hutcheson since 1996, Ramsay and his wife have four children. Dividing his time between his business pursuits and family life, Ramsay also fi nds time for marathon running. “Having been a fat chef once, I don’t want to go back there,” he says.

 

When you first started cooking, did your dream to own restaurants automatically follow? Not every chef gets to own their own restaurants.

It’s a good question. There are a lot of great chefs out there that never get the chance to open a business. At 26, it happened early for me. I’d just come back from Paris with all this knowledge, got introduced to some guys who had an Italian restaurant sort of in the ass end of Chelsea, and it was a little place called eleven Park Walk.

I looked at it, they offered me 25 percent of it, I didn’t know what I was getting 25 percent of. It turned out to be 25 percent of debt. But what do you know at 26? I put my head down, worked my ass off and I go after it. I really worked hard. We went from a little neighbourhood bistro to this sort of mega two-Michelin star establishment in three years, which was an amazing journey.

And, I was just bubbling. Then I couldn’t quite understand why the bills weren’t being paid, and all these cash fl ow issues were happening and we were fully booked for 6, 7 months in advance. So, you need to go through that process of learning.

And I’d much rather have experienced that than go to Harvard for a business degree in how to run a business, because I was dropped in it and I understood.

My man management skills were dreadful and I couldn’t talk to anyone, and I had all this knowledge. I realised at an early age that in order to become really good, you have to offload and teach and that’s, how I understood to remove the insecurities.

Because I found all this knowledge, I wanted to keep hold of it and not show anyone it, I wanted to shine, but then I wanted to become one of the best chefs ever. So you’ve got to teach, and you got to teach properly. I understood that one quite early.

 

How did you develop your candid and frank nature when dealing with chefs? Is it something that developed over the years? Did you have this personality as a child?

I’ve never actually sat down and analysed that. I think it’s brutal honesty, really. Sometimes in our ever-evolving world, we get a little bit too PC. In kitchens, you’ve got to get honest quickly because there are so many things going on.

So, part upbringing I think, Mum and Dad. a bit of Scottish roots in me. also, I think pressure’s healthy. Pressure’s very healthy. It just becomes stressful when you can’t handle that pressure.

 

How do you balance your workload?

How do I balance? I take the whole of august off, that’s my holiday. It’s so much easier now, to be honest, because I really focus on what I want to do, and who I want to do it with.

And with the success behind me, it’s not because I can pick and choose in an arrogant form, but I’m just very sort of conscious of time and I manage my life far better than I ever was doing 8, 9 years ago.

 

You see lots of chefs and they are rotund, to be kind, but not you. Is it an exercise regime, or you just don’t sample the wares?

Oh no, I eat. Trust me, I eat like a horse. But I was a fat chef once, and I knew that it wasn’t a good advert for my restaurants, to come out sweating, looking ridiculous and barely could tie up my apron strings, drooling over a customer who was trying to force the pudding down.

The role of a chef today is far more prolific than it ever was 20 years ago and it’s a young man and young girl’s game today, so there has to be a certain image in terms of an appetizing image.

I think that we are now sort of under the scrutiny more than ever before so you can indulge, you can eat out and you can have the most amazing time with food, but it has to be done in a balance, and every restaurant has to perform along those lines. So, having been a fat chef once, I don’t want to go back there, I suppose.

When you just want a snack, what is your go-to food? I love burgers. I’m allowed one a week, but it’s nice when you’ve got an assistant because you send him in for one and you eat his.

 

What about your kids’ diets?

I’ve got four children of my own, three girls and a boy. I got to keep it real with the kids or I’m in danger of spoiling them. We don’t do that. They keep a very level-headed, disciplined lifestyle.

They eat well, they keep fit, they do their homework and they know that school is absolutely critical. They’re not food snobs, they don’t go out and eat appetizers and entrees at Nobu. They get taken to “A” restaurants for a treat.

 

How much do you take the obesity epidemic into what you do?

It’s a very good question. I get very uncomfortable when the focus is on the children that are overweight because the problem is the parents.

You look at the strict guidelines in terms of what we have to go through to run a business, to pay our taxes. It should be the same with the understanding of how we cannot allow our children to become overweight. That’s our responsibility. We need to scrutinize the beginning. We have a fun element in our house where the kids weigh themselves every week – every Sunday, religiously, they weigh themselves. They write it down, they have little competitions, and I don’t want them to get a conscious thinking that they’re overweight at 14 or 15, so they know why they weigh themselves, and they see Mum and Dad weigh themselves, and then they see that when we’re having dinner, dessert’s a treat and fruit is imperative.

So it’s the parents. That’s the sort of passport that’s missing, the strict guidelines where you will be held responsible if a four-year-old is over the standard weight in conjunction with their height. It’s not about them screaming and not tolerating you, it’s about your level of discipline. That’s where the help’s needed, I think.

 

It seems these types of shows have become more popular, and we seem to just be getting fatter and fatter with garbage food. How do you reconcile that?

Whether it’s garbage food in Central Europe, UK – outside America, the fastest development of McDonalds now is taking place in France. Now, what’s all that about? So it doesn’t really stack up. even if you never wanted to make this as a career point of view, to become a professional chef, teacher, whatever, learning how to cook for yourself on a natural front is paramount.

We don’t have enough schools, and I think if there’s more of an educational part of a MasterChef scope inside a curriculum, inside a school, campus, academy, I think you’d see less obesity across the country.

Because learning to cook for yourself is so important, just like it is reading and writing, just like it is speaking a second language and learning that kind of confidence.

Cooking something simple, making a great burger or a stunning pasta dish, or even poaching fish… In Vietnam – they don’t have fridges there, they don’t even cook with dairy.

They buy produce twice a day on a daily basis whether you’re operating a computer or… there was a telephonist I came across who was operating this call centre for an airline, and she would buy fish twice a day. She has no refrigeration unit at home, she doesn’t even know what dairy is – cream, butter, eggs. and she’s off to the market, buying her fish, cutting it up, keeping it whole, she’s steaming it, wrapping it in bamboo.

Twenty-one years of age and she eats like a king. and yet, she earns, on average, five dollars a day. You can’t compare that, because she grew up with that important factor that one has to eat properly – not just to work in this industry, you’ve got to eat properly.

 

You’re sitting here talking without swearing like a normal person. Is it all in the act?

It’s not an act. You know, I’ve got four children, my wife’s a schoolteacher. If I had to put a microphone on a football player or a basketball player ringside, courtside – when you’re passionate about something in such a big way, you let it go.

We’ve filmed Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen and it’s under the extraordinary pressure because I’m so pissed – the fact that they’re spending hours of wasting customers’ time, their own time and charging a fortune for dishes and they’re not even putting their love and soul into it.

So I expose them in a big way. Hell’s Kitchen will have an amazing array of executive chefs that want to be the very best, but there’s a hundred hours of footage that gets condensed to 42 minutes, so of course it’s going to look pissy.

 

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